BT broadband vs Virgin Media broadband
By Marc Shoffman | Wednesday, May 19th 2021
BT and Virgin are two heavyweights of the broadband world. They are among the most popular providers in the UK and operate on separate networks. Virgin is renowned for its insanely fast speeds, but BT is more widely available and also offers faster speeds than its competitors. So how do you choose between them?
We've weighed up how the pair compare when it comes to speed, packages, customer service and technology to help you decide which is right for your household.
With the introduction of the Advertising Standards Authority ruling, broadband providers can now only advertise speeds that are available to at least 50 per cent of their customers, and as a result, some different, considerably lower, numbers have appeared. BT now offers 10Mbps with its standard Broadband, 36Mbps with its Superfast Fibre Essential, 50Mbps with its Fibre 1 (previously known as BT Infinity 1) and 67Mbps for Fibre 2 (previously BT Infinity 2). For a very small number of customers, BT does now also offer ultrafast speeds up to 900Mbps, but this service is currently only available in very limited areas.
In comparison, where Virgin's speeds were previously way faster than those of BT, they are now even faster. This is because, for 50 per cent of Virgin's customers, the speeds they receive are actually faster than those advertised.
Virgin is able to offer these speeds because it has its own cabling network, rather than relying on Openreach. This lets it set its own speed targets. You can get 50Mbps, 100Mbps, 200Mbps, 350Mbps, 500Mbps and now even 1000Mbps (1Gbps) with Virgin Media, setting it miles apart from all other broadband providers in terms of speed. It is also more widely available than BT’s 900Mbps package.
You can’t beat Virgin when it comes to speed. That isn’t to say 10Mbps or even 36Mbps isn’t enough. Both are fine for everyday use and you will only really need 100Mbps or more when you are making big demands on the network such as if several people are streaming content at the same time or if you want to get that new Xbox game downloaded in double-quick time.
Virgin gets the points on this one as its basic speed of up to 50Mbps is still faster than anyone else's entry-level speed. Read our guide on what you can do with a 50Mbps connection to see if it's the best speed for you. It is worth remembering that these are only advertised speeds and as Virgin has its own network it will only offer you the level it thinks it can provide based on where you live. Having said that, in general, Virgin Media's speeds are very close to those advertised, if not faster.
BT Fibre Essential
Monthly cost£27.99 p/m£9.99 one-off cost 24 month contractSee Dealthis deal is anOnline exclusive
- 36Mb average speed +
- Unlimited usage +
- No phone line
BT Fibre 1
£60 Reward CardMonthly cost£28.99 p/m£9.99 one-off cost 24 month contractSee Dealthis deal is anOnline exclusive
- 50Mb average speed +
- Unlimited usage +
- No phone line
Virgin Media M100 Fibre Broadband + Calls
No set-up feeMonthly cost£27 p/mZero one-off cost 18 month contractSee Dealor call Virgin Media on0808 168 4947 0808 168 4947
- 108Mb average speed +
- Unlimited usage +
- Inclusive calls
Virgin Media M200 Fibre Broadband + Calls
No set-up feeMonthly cost£33 p/mZero one-off cost 18 month contractSee Dealor call Virgin Media on0808 168 4947 0808 168 4947
- 213Mb average speed +
- Unlimited usage +
- Inclusive calls
Deals and packages
You can get BT broadband on four different packages. It starts with Broadband offering 10Mbps download speed. Next up is Superfast Fibre Essential with speeds averaging 36Mbps. Another step up is Fibre 1 with an average speed of 50Mbps, then there is Fibre 2, which comes with 67Mbps.
All BT's deals are unlimited and come without a phone plan as standard. However, you can choose to add pay-as-you-go calls(charged at 20.9p per minute) or bolt on a calls bundle for an extra fee. Customers get access to BT’s free Wifi hotspots across the country. All BT’s contracts are currently for 24 months.
Virgin is more flexible on its contracts. It will only lock you in for 18 months, plus it offers a 30-day rolling option that you can cancel within 30 days. All Virgin’s packages come with fibre broadband and start with M50, with average speeds of 54Mbps. You can double that to M100 or go double again with M200 fibre broadband. Its fastest speed is now 1000Mbps with its Gig1 broadband service, which has an average speed of 1,130Mbps.
All Virgin's broadband packages are unlimited and you also have a choice whether or not to include a phone line in your package. If you go with a package with the phone line included, you will get inclusive weekend calls to UK landline, Virgin Mobile numbers, plus inclusive weekend minutes to 0870 numbers.
Although BT offers broadband without phone line as standard, whereas Virgin charges extra for broadband only, Virgin ultimately wins here by offering both one-month rolling contracts and a shorter 18-month contract against BT’s lengthy 24-month contracts.
BT doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to customer service, but things don’t look too bad at all for the provider according to the latest data in Ofcom's customer service survey.
Overall, 86 per cent of BT customers are satisfied with their service, and just 10% of customers had a reason to complain. Of those, 57 per cent were satisfied with how the complaint was handled – this is higher than the sector average of 53 per cent.
When it comes to call waiting times, the average wait time for a BT customer is an impressive 55 seconds, which is way shorter than the sector average of two minutes and 10 seconds.
In comparison, 85 per cent of Virgin’s customers are satisfied with their service overall, and 14 per cent had a reason to complain (more than BT). Of those who did have an issue, only 44 per cent were happy with how their complaint was dealt with – somewhat below both BT and the sector average of 53 per cent.
For a Virgin customer waiting to get through on the phone line, the average waiting time is a rather long four minutes and 26 seconds – over four times as long as the average wait time for a BT customer.
No-one rings up their broadband provider for a casual chat. So, when you do ring, you want your call answered quickly and the problem dealt with appropriately.
So in this instance, BT beats Virgin, with its rapid call response time, and its customer complaints seem to be dealt with more efficiently than those of Virgin Media customers.
Router and technology
If you sign up to BT’s standard broadband, you will be sent the Home Hub 4. This provides a standard 5GHz and 2.4GHz channels plus four ethernet ports and a USB point. If you want a more sparkly router, then you need to be a fibre broadband customer.
Fibre customers will get a Smart Hub, which brandishes seven antennas to find the best frequencies for the top speeds and will also cope with faster speeds in the future. The BT Smart Hub also constantly monitors your internet connection and if it spots a problem, it will quietly reboot and make a fresh connection. Customers signing up for BT Ultrafast will receive the Smart Hub 2.
In contrast, Virgin provides its shiny Virgin Media Hub 3 to all customers. It comes with four ethernet cables for wired connections and 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless channels. It also has five internal antennas which should help boost your speeds. Gig1 customers will receive the more powerful Hub 4 router.
It’s neck and neck with BT and Virgin Media when it comes to routers. No-one likes to feel like their custom is not important. BT risks offending those on its standard broadband service by giving them an inferior router to its Smart Hub. In comparison, Virgin treats everyone the same.
Both providers offer powerful technology, but BT’s Smart Hub does have the edge over Virgin’s Hub 3 when it comes to wifi coverage.
BT provides virus protection with all its packages. BT Virus Protect covers two devices as standard, except Fibre 2 which allows 15 devices to be protected.
You also get parental controls and BT Cloud, which gives you a whopping 200GB free storage with Broadband and Fibre 1 and an even bigger 1TB on Fibre 2 (previously BT Infinity 2).
BT occasionally offers juicy incentives such as free BT Sport or cashback when signing up, so it is worth keeping your eye on the latest BT deals. Customers will also get free access to five million BT Wi-fi hotspots around the UK.
Virgin Media offers similar extras. You will get virus protection using F-Secure on up to five devices and parental controls using Web Sa fe. There is Virgin Media WiFi for use at available hotspots on the move, and it is also available inside London Underground stations.
Both are pretty tied on this one. You get the usual virus protection and parental controls as well as access to public wi-fi. BT can go one better by offering storage and free access to BT Sport on its app. BT Wi-fi is also far more widely available than Virgin's.
Virgin wins by a mile on speed, but lags slightly behind BT when it comes to customer service; two of the most important factors when it comes to choosing a broadband provider. BT has decent technology and some great extras, but if you want fast and reliable broadband, Virgin may be the way to go.